Perhaps to no one’s surprise, but surely to everyone’s disappointment, Google might be shelving the once highly popular Project Ara that would have delivered a truly modular smartphone with interchangeable core components. At least that’s what two sources are saying. Given the repeated delays and a significant change in the project’s vision and implementation, that is almost expected. Also expected, however, will be the backlash from different supporters, including hardware makers whom Google already announced and waved around like trophies, if Google does throw in the towel, temporarily or otherwise.
The idea of a truly modular smartphone wasn’t born inside Google, to be precise. It was a group called Phonebloks that made the biggest noise about it, which was quickly followed by the Advanced Technology and Projects group, more popularly known as “ATAP”, which was originally under Motorola, which, in turn, was then still owned by Google. Long story short, Google retained ownership of ATAP and Phonebloks became the community arm and voice of what would eventually be christened as Project Ara.
For a time, it seemed that it full speed ahead, and progress on the modular smartphone was being made in strides. Initial delays were expected and accepted, but months turned into years with no end in sight. In the mean time, others have taken on the challenge of a modular smartphone, but in their own and divergent ways. Both the LG G5 and the Moto Z family focused on hot-swappable accessories rather than replaceable components like storage or displays.
Then again, Project Ara somewhat dropped that ball too. In the most recent update, the team revealed a change in direction where some components, in fact, won’t be changeable. You are basically just getting a skeleton smartphone. But now you might not get anything at all.
Of course, it’s not yet confirmed and even if true, it could be temporary only. The technology and lessons learned could also find their way to other Google products eventually. The timing, however, would make sense, as Google tries to rein in its myriad and different devices under the helm of former Motorola president Rick Osterloh. It just feels almost ironic that Project Ara, which traces its roots back to Motorola, would be shut down by the man who once headed that company.